Often times Christians shy away from anything involving the term “sex.” Add to the mix “addiction,” and you can clear a room in five seconds. But I encourage you to pull up a chair and stick around. Because today we have a submission by my guest blogger and psychotherapist husband on this taboo topic. Read on…
“Sex addict.” The phrase can make us uncomfortable. Especially when used to describe ourselves or someone we love. I believe our discomfort comes from the way society stereotypes addiction. Of all addictions, sexual addiction seems to bring the most shame and embarrassment to the sufferer and loved ones. For this reason, many sufferers want to hide their addiction. They instead suffer in silence, where the addiction has its biggest stronghold.
Removing the stigma
Sexual addiction is compulsive sexual behavior. I describe it as persistent sexual thoughts and the craving or need for sex that disrupts the ability to function at work, school, in relationships, and other daily activities. That compulsion can manifest itself in many ways, like watching porn (sometimes for hours a day), or visiting strip clubs, massage parlors or prostitutes. Sometimes it manifests through online chat rooms or multiple sex partners.
Sex addiction is NOT:
A “men only” issue – While men make up the largest percentage of the sex addiction population, women can and do suffer from sexual addiction as well.
Equal to being a sex offender, molester, or creepy pervert – While some people with sexual addictions turn to illegal or criminal behavior to satisfy their compulsive need for the “high” that comes from sexual fulfillment, most sex addicts are law-abiding citizens.
Having a ‘high sex drive’ – Sex addiction is less about sex, and more about addiction. We call it an addiction because the arousal primarily takes place in the brain. And all addictions can snare the brain. The sexual activities create dopamine spikes in the brain that require more and more of the same behavior to get the same high.
Talking about it
Sexual issues keep increasing. And couples struggle with how to talk about the proverbial “elephant in the room.” So what do they do?
They hope…hope it’s not a big deal…hope it’s just a phase. Hope things will get better on their own once life gets less busy and things settle down. But as a leader once told me, “Hope is never a strategy.”
Sexual issues in a relationship don’t just disappear. Instead, they get worse over time until a couple ends up feeling more disconnected and alone. In my practice, I commonly see husbands who no longer show interest in sex, and wives who feel unwanted and alone. Though not always the case, sexual addiction is often at play.
The connection to pornography
Ahh, the P-word—one of the most prevalent ways sexual addiction manifests. Pornography is more accessible and socially acceptable than ever before. Some even see it as “helpful” to a relationship. Yet pornography often contributes to the sexual issues I see in marriages. Couples often use porn together to stimulate desire and increase satisfaction—yes, ironic. Many view porn as harmless entertainment. Research begs us to question this idea.
While not everyone who watches porn develops addiction, over one-third of men in the U.S. consider themselves to have a problem. A Barna research study found that more than half of pastors admit they have struggled with porn. And these are just the self-reporters.
Porn hijacks the brain. It causes the user to prioritize tantalizing imaginary relationships over real human interactions, such that sexual experiences with a partner no longer bring satisfaction, or “high.” When someone develops a sex addiction, they eventually stop deriving any enjoyment from sex. Instead, they engage in compulsive sexual activities to avoid underlying negative feelings. And for some, porn acts as a “gateway drug” that leads to risky or even illegal sexual activity.
In the last eight years, I’ve seen the impact porn has on married couples’ abilities to share intimacy on all levels—emotion, mental, physical, and sexual.
Sex addiction therapists specialize in (you guessed it) sex addiction. They can help you and your spouse recognize when an addiction contributes to marital issues, work with you to address them, help you understand the triggers, and provide tools to overcome them.
If an addiction plagues your relationship, don’t let inactivity allow your marriage and family to erode away. Initiate the first step to healing and freedom.